MMA Review: #627: UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm

-The final UFC show of 2017 lost one of its big marquee fights in Jimmie Rivera vs. Dominick Cruz (and then John Lineker too) which meant it was a bit of a lesser PPV to be ending the year with, despite a title fight and the return of Khabib Nurmagomedov. I mean, Cris Cyborg does bring a certain star aura but she’s not my most beloved fighter by any stretch of the imagination. Not a bad card, just a bit middling really.

UFC 219: Cyborg vs. Holm

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz. Way to rub it in by having Cruz there, guys!

Welterweight Fight: Carlos Condit vs Neil Magny

This was Condit’s first fight back following his pseudo-retirement after his loss to Demian Maia, and he was thrown right back in the deep end against top ten contender Neil Magny, who was looking to bounce back from a loss of his own – to Rafael Dos Anjos in September. I felt like prime Condit would’ve won this easily but wondered exactly how much he’d have left in the tank after years of wars and time on the shelf.

Round One begins and Magny pushes forward and they exchange leg kicks. Combination comes up short for Condit. Kick from Condit is caught and Magny gets him down, but Carlos goes for a leglock. Magny defends it pretty comfortably and then drops down into the full guard, though. Good right hand lands for Magny as Condit scrambles up, and from there Magny forces him into the fence before hitting another takedown. He takes the back as Condit stands, but can’t drag him back down and they wind up in the clinch. They jockey for position and land some strikes inside, before Condit breaks off. Low kick from Condit is countered by a pair of rights from Magny. Another combo comes up short for Condit as Magny continues to pressure him back with strikes of his own. Good front kick to the body lands for Magny. Combination lands cleanly for Condit, but Magny drops for a single leg and forces him back. Condit blocks it and they wind up clinched, then break off again and exchange some more strikes until the buzzer. 10-9 Magny.

Round Two and Magny pressures Condit back but takes a glancing combo early on. Few more good strikes get through for Condit, but Magny comes back with some of his own and he’s the one moving forward. Clinch from Magny and he looks to muscle Condit to the ground, and eventually he hits a slam. Condit scrambles immediately and looks to tie up Magny’s left leg, but he can’t get anything and winds up on his back in full guard. From there he can’t get much going again, but he does manage to work up to his feet. They break off and Condit comes forward with some decent shots, but he can’t seem to catch Magny cleanly. He does advance though and gets to the clinch himself. Takedown follows for Magny though and he remain in control as Condit stands back up. A third takedown follows for the round, and despite Condit staying busy from his back, he can’t do anything before the round ends. 10-9 Magny for the takedowns.

Round Three and they exchange from the outside in the opening seconds with Magny throwing quite a few kicks. Condit tries to chase him down at one point but it just doesn’t work. He just can’t seem to find his range properly at all. Takedown attempt from Magny and he gets to a rear waistlock before Condit locks up the left arm for a possible kimura. Magny decides to give up the takedown though and he separates with a right hand. Nice combo lands for Magny off the break. Condit pressures him back a little but he’s still struggling to get any meaningful offense together. They continue to exchange strikes with Magny landing just as many as Condit. Condit begins to force him back a little more, but a clinch slows him down. Takedown follows for Magny and he lands in the guard, and starts to drop some punches over the top. Condit scrambles but he gives up side mount in the process, although he manages to stand to end the round. 10-9 Magny, 30-27 Magny most likely.

Judges have it 30-27, 30-27 and 29-28 for Neil Magny. Not the most inspiring fight in the end if I’m honest, as Condit just looked shot and couldn’t get anything going in terms of offense, and while Magny fought a smart fight and clearly won, it just wasn’t as exciting as you’d expect from a fight involving Carlos Condit. I suspect Condit probably retires for good after this which makes sense really – I don’t think it’s dangerous for him to continue or anything but he’s clearly not the fighter he once was. Not sure who’s next for Magny to be fair but this win keeps him near the top of the division regardless.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Carla Esparza vs Cynthia Calvillo

Calvillo had come into the UFC earlier in 2017 and was already 3-0 and looked like one of the best prospects in the promotion, and this was clearly her biggest test to date in the form of former champion Esparza, who’d last been seen in the summer beating Maryna Moroz. Quite a tough fight to pick really but I was going with Esparza due to what I thought would be a big wrestling advantage.

Fight begins and Calvillo pressures forward before they exchange some early punches. Both women land some decent shots before Calvillo ducks under a right hand and hits a takedown to half-guard. Nice work there from Calvillo. She does a good job of keeping Carla down too despite the former champ squirming a lot from her back. Esparza manages to get to full guard, but she takes a couple of short elbows. She attempts an armbar from the bottom, but Calvillo stays calm and postures up, managing to shake it off and then drop back into side mount. Not much damage done from there by Calvillo, but she’s definitely in total control here. Inverted triangle is avoided by Calvillo who remains on top. She lands some decent punches and elbows too once she manages to trap an arm. Big shots begin to get through for Calvillo with seconds to go and she almost takes the back, but Carla spins over to take top position as the round ends. Clear-cut round for Calvillo, 10-9.

Into the 2nd and Carla lands with a clean right hand. Good leg kick follows. Calvillo pressures forward, but Esparza seems to have found her range now and she’s countering pretty well and then moving out of range herself. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Esparza this time and she’s definitely beating Calvillo to the punch now. Big takedown attempt from Esparza is stuffed well. Nice combo from Carla but Calvillo answers back with a stiff left hand. Big right hands land for both women in a couple of exchanges, and then Esparza lands a takedown. Calvillo scrambles from her back right away to get to her feet though. Nice right hand connects for Carla and she stuffs a possible takedown. Single leg puts Calvillo down with seconds to go but she pops right back up again. Round ends with a couple more striking exchanges and a failed takedown from Esparza. 10-9 Esparza as she just outworked Calvillo on the feet.

Third round and this could definitely go either way. Exchange opens the round with both women landing hard right hands and Esparza connecting on a leg kick too. Esparza’s just doing a slightly better job of landing strikes and avoiding the big ones coming back from Calvillo. Single leg attempt is stuffed by Cynthia though and she drives the former champ into the fence. They break off quickly and Esparza continues to press forward, using her punches to set up some leg kicks. Calvillo needs to get some offense going pretty quickly I’d say as she’s being outpointed. Takedown attempt is again stuffed by Calvillo though. Esparza keeps on landing the right hand and the low kick. Two minutes to go and Esparza looks really confident now, opening up with her striking a lot more. Kick is caught and Calvillo goes for the takedown, but a guillotine attempt stuffs it and Esparza lands a clean left off the break. One minute to go and Carla really tags her with a combo. Single leg puts Calvillo on her back, but it’s again only momentary as she pops right back up. Big flurry ends the fight for Carla. 10-9 Esparza for me giving her a 29-28 win. Close one to call though.

Official scores are 29-28 all round for Carla Esparza, giving us a hilarious visual as Calvillo’s celebrating outright until Bruce Buffer reads Esparza’s name. Hey, I guess she’s got to keep up that female Diaz brother gimmick, but seriously I thought she clearly lost this fight in the end. The difference – outside of the first round where Calvillo totally dominated on the ground – was that Esparza was the more varied striker and she was reacting to what Calvillo was doing, while Calvillo seemed only focused on her own offense and not what she was absorbing. It’s an experience thing I’d say and Calvillo will probably improve hugely after this loss. Big win for Esparza though and this should be enough to give her a top five opponent next time out. Decent fight too albeit nothing special.

Lightweight Fight: Marc Diakiese vs Dan Hooker

This fight was added to the main card when it lost Rivera/Lineker, and to be fair it was probably the best prelim to use in the spot. Diakiese – a highly touted prospect prior to his summer loss to Drakkar Klose – was the favourite coming in due to his explosive and flashy style, but Hooker was a tough opponent for him as he’d pulled off a big win over Ross Pearson in the summer. I was taking Diakiese but it was tight.

Round One begins and both men look pretty tentative to begin, feinting a lot from the outside. Diakiese throws out a couple of kicks from range that don’t really land. Neither man really lands a significant strike in the first minute or so, before Diakiese misses a spinning jump kick ala Jean-Claude Van Damme. Decent low kick does land for Hooker. Just over two minutes in and the crowd begin to boo for the inactivity. Diakiese keeps on throwing out a low side kick. Spin kick misses for him though. Left jab connects for Hooker. Big counter right just misses for Diakiese. He does land a solid body kick though. Kick from Hooker is caught but the Brit can’t capitalise. This has been a real yawner of a round. Seconds to go and they clinch and Diakiese almost gets a takedown, but Hooker reverses and puts him down instead. Round ends there. 10-10 round in my eyes.

Round Two and Diakiese catches a high kick and lands with a nice low kick. Neither man seems to be able to really get into range to land something heavy though. Crowd are really hating this fight and it’s understandable, basically. Hooker backs him up and so Diakiese goes for a takedown, but the Kiwi defends it pretty easily and forces Diakiese into the fence. Little happens from there and so they separate with Diakiese landing a pair of really low leg kicks, but he fails on another takedown attempt. Knee to the body does land from there for him though. Hooker answers with a takedown, and this time he manages to take the back as Diakiese attempts to stand back up. Nice work from Hooker. He puts one hook in – no pun intended – and then slaps on a body triangle for good measure. Not much happens from there as Diakiese defends the choke and doesn’t really take much damage, but he’s clearly being controlled. With seconds to go he manages to spin into Hooker’s guard, but the round peters out from there. 10-9 Hooker.

Round Three and Diakiese really pushes forward with some big strikes, landing a couple of overhand punches and a body kick. Hooker takes some shots but hangs in there well, and then the Brit shoots, but gets caught in a TIGHT GUILLOTINE and Hooker drops to guard and gets the tap! Didn’t expect that but there you go.

Pretty dull fight overall even if it was a good win for Hooker – who’s somewhat of an underrated fighter actually. He basically fought the smart fight and kept things slow, meaning Diakiese was a bit exposed as more flash than substance really. I think Diakiese’s probably still got the better future ahead of him due to his sick athleticism, but he really needs to work on his fundamentals in order to set up his more flashy offense I think. As it was this was one of the worse fights the UFC televised in 2017 despite the cool finish.

Lightweight Fight: Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Edson Barboza

Well, this was a pretty huge fight for sure – Khabib had been on the shelf since his November 2016 win over Michael Johnson after having to drop out of his Interim title fight with Tony Ferguson with weight cutting issues, but he was promising all that was behind him here. Rather than a title fight though – more on that business later – he was faced with Barboza, who was coming off a KO of the year contender over Beneil Dariush and hadn’t lost since his own fight with Ferguson in 2015. Despite some questions over Khabib’s striking defence I couldn’t pick against the guy given his stellar record and insane grappling game, and I figured he’d beat Barboza up to a late TKO or decision.

First round begins and the crowd are hugely into Khabib as a big star, and rightfully so. Brutal inside leg kicks open the fight for Barboza as Khabib looks to walk him down early on. Big swings miss for Barboza but he’s finding a home for the leg kick. Khabib just walks through them though and he fires some wild punches at the Brazilian before diving for the takedown. Barboza looks to stuff it, and does so, escaping really well. Khabib pushes through a body kick though to throw some more punches, and he catches Barboza with a flurry before shooting again. Trip puts Barboza down this time and he’s in trouble. And sure enough Khabib postures up and begins to drop BOMBS through the Brazilian’s guard, giving him no space to move. BRUTAL SHOTS land for Khabib from the top and he moves into side mount before landing a huge right hand. Full mount follows and Khabib just won’t stop punching. Barboza looks exhausted. He takes some more punishment and he can’t get up at all. Khabib keeps on beating on him, and with seconds to go he goes for a neck crank and then gives it up to drop some more bombs. Round ends and Barboza can barely stand. 10-8 Nurmagomedov.

Second round and Khabib pressures Barboza back instantly and actually lands some kicks of his own. Barboza fires off with a couple of strikes but he just can’t seem to handle the pressure. Big punches land for Khabib and Barboza looks wobbly. Takedown attempt follows and he puts Barboza against the fence and begins to land punches from the clinch. Barboza’s face looks badly busted up. He manages to escape and throws a wild kick, but Khabib blocks it easily and keeps on walking him down. Khabib even walks through some nasty shots to the body, and he close Barboza down with a flurry and then gets him down again. This time Khabib takes his back with one hook and forces him down, and from there he punches him some more and takes full mount. A series of unanswered punches to the face follows for Khabib as he’s just not slowing down at all. The guy is a MONSTER. Barboza looks like he’s got absolutely nothing left in the tank and it’s understandable. Somehow he manages to get to a knee, but Khabib drags him right back down and the beating continues until the round ends. 10-8 Nurmagomedov again and Barboza’s corner ought to consider stopping this.

Third round and Barboza actually tries a flying knee, but Khabib avoids it and just walks right through any of the strikes the Brazilian’s throwing. The pressure Khabib puts on is something else, seriously. Big punches land for the Dagestani as he backs Barboza up, and a double leg follows to put him on his back. Barboza does well this time to work back up to his feet, but he can’t shake Khabib off him despite being able to stay vertical. He finally breaks off with just over two minutes to go, but more pressure from Khabib forces him backwards. Wheel kick lands for Barboza (!) but Khabib eats it right up and pushes forward some more. Barboza decides to clinch in a weird move but what more can he do? Takedown for Khabib follows and he pretty much has full mount again. Khabib lands more strikes from there and Barboza’s absorbing some serious punishment again. Somehow he manages to escape to his feet and even throws a jumping knee, but it misses and Khabib keeps on pushing forward. Round ends on the feet. 10-8 Khabib and I’d go 30-24 overall which is pretty insane. Incredible showing from Nurmagomedov.

Judges have it 30-25, 30-25 and 30-24 in one of the all-time lopsided decisions for Khabib. This was basically a fifteen-minute beatdown as Barboza pretty much had no offense and took a ludicrous amount of punishment, doing well to survive. The only comparison really is Cain Velasquez’s beatdowns of Junior Dos Santos in the sheer amount of pressure Khabib put on – he literally didn’t stop coming forward which meant Barboza couldn’t get any of his usual striking game going at all and was on the defensive from the off. And basically you can’t just be defensive against this guy.

There’s been discussion now of him fighting Conor McGregor for the full title rather than Tony Ferguson for the Interim one as Tony’s had surgery recently, but who knows with McGregor? For the record I think he beats Ferguson with that pressure game, but I’m not sure if Conor would catch him coming in. That’s the biggest fight for me but I doubt Conor ever comes back if I’m honest, so Khabib/Ferguson is the next best thing for sure – let’s hope we see it in 2018! This was fantastically entertaining at any rate even if it was one-sided.

UFC Women’s World Featherweight Title: Cris Cyborg vs Holly Holm

Well, they got there eventually. This was the title fight the UFC had planned when they bought in the Women’s Featherweight division back in February, but due to the usual issues with Cyborg, we ended up with Germaine de Randamie facing Holm instead and winning, and of course from there GDR just abandoned the title, allowing Cyborg to beat an average 135lber in Tonya Evinger for it in July. At one point it didn’t look like they’d be able to even put Cyborg/Holm together here but thankfully they got it done. Hilariously of course, all pre-fight video packages make no mention of the GDR reign or win over Holm. Obvious pick here was Cyborg because how can you really pick against her? Holm was at least a live opponent for her though for once.

Round One and they circle with the crowd chanting for Holm right away. Lot of movement from Holm and she catches a kick early and throws Cyborg down before glancing with a kick of her own. Clinch follows and Holm surprisingly muscles Cyborg into the fence. Cyborg shrugs her off and pushes forward, but Holm stings her with a glancing left. Big right hand connects for Cyborg and Holm has to backpedal. She comes back with a glancing combination but she’s coming up just short on most of her strikes thus far. Another quick rush glances for Holly. Cyborg walks through the shots though and lands with a right hook. Good low kick connects for the champion. Clinch from Cyborg, but Holm again muscles her into the fence despite taking some knees inside. One minute to go and they separate, and a decent left lands for Holm, but a counter right from Cyborg forces her to circle out immediately. Clinch is shrugged off by Cyborg. Round ends with Holm glancing on a head kick and then eating a superman punch. 10-9 Cyborg but Holm didn’t do too badly at all really.

Round Two and Holly opens with a decent combo to counter a low kick. Looks like Cyborg’s nose is bleeding. Hard counter right hand connects for Cyborg as Holm throws another combo. Cyborg’s just landing the cleaner, harder shots right now. Again she lands with a counter as Holly rushes in with a combination. Big body kick lands for Cyborg. Couple of kicks from Holm allow her to keep distance, but they don’t really hurt Cyborg. A clean left hand does connect but the champion walks through it. Clinch from Cyborg but again Holm surprisingly shoves her back into the fence. They break pretty quickly and Holm lands another left in an exchange. Another clinch allows her to put Cyborg on the fence, and this time she breaks with a decent right hand. Straight left follows for Holly. Big right hand lands for Cyborg though and Holm clinches again. Action slows down a bit from there as Holm just keeps her pressed into the cage, and they break with less than a minute to go. Head kick glances for Cyborg and she lands some big punches in a brief trade. Kick to the body follows for the champ. Holm is looking all marked up. Big right hand from Cyborg but Holm clinches to end the round. 10-9 Cyborg; Holm did well again but still took the harder shots.

Round Three and Cyborg opens with a glancing head kick. Combo comes up short for Holm and she just doesn’t seem to have the power to hurt Cyborg. Clinch from the champ and this time she forces Holly into the fence, and they jockey for position before a knee to the chest breaks for Cyborg. Big exchange again sees Cyborg connect with the harder blows. Really hard right hand lands for Cyborg as she comes forward, and a knee to the body follows it up. Holm’s being backed up a lot now. Decent left hook lands for her though and she almost lands with a head kick. Another stinging left catches Cyborg coming forward. Knee to the body fires back for Cyborg. Just over a minute to go and Cyborg continues to pour on the pressure, landing a solid couple of punches. Clinch from Holm is shrugged off. Head kick misses for Holly and another attempt is caught, and Cyborg drives her into the fence. Holm escapes though but she eats a big kick to the body. Big right hand wobbles Holly but she manages to circle out as the round ends. 10-9 Cyborg and I’m not sure Holm can turn this around.

Round Four and Cyborg opens with a stiff jab. Holm keeps circling to try the straight left, but it looks like Cyborg’s got the timing down now and she’s landing counters as well as her own offensive shots. Nasty right hand connects for Cyborg. Body kick lands hard too for the Brazilian. Holm comes back with one of her own and then lands with a left and a right with Cyborg at close range, but she quickly gets backed up and Cyborg lands a head kick. Holm comes back with a one-two, though. Exchange continues and it’s still Cyborg connecting more often and harder. Front kick lands to the body for Cyborg. They continue to exchange before Holm clinches, keeping Cyborg against the fence. They break off with a minute or so to go, and both women look slightly tired now to be fair. Big counter punches land for Cyborg as Holm tries a rush. Couple of stiff jabs follow for Cyborg. Round ends on the feet again. 10-9 Cyborg and Holm needs a miracle finish to win.

Round Five and Holm’s face looks pretty badly messed up. She opens with a body kick, but Cyborg lands her jab a couple more times. Holm throws some more combos that come up a bit short, and then a superman elbow that just misses. Cyborg clinches off that and moves her into the fence, but Holly reverses position and pins her for a moment. Cyborg quickly breaks though and rushes in with a body kick. Both women trade some kicks and Holm follows with a really hard left hand, but again it has no effect. Body kick and a jab answer back for the champ. More of the same follows with Holm getting stunned by a right hand again for a second. Holm’s doing well to hold up under the power, though. Hook kick misses for Holly and Cyborg makes her pay with a combo. She’s just casually walking through Holm’s best shots. Big right hand lands for Cyborg. Seconds to go and a really big combination lands for Holm and actually appears to have Cyborg hurt, but she clinches up and uses the time to recover. Round ends with a couple of big knees from Cyborg. 10-9 Cyborg, 50-45 Cyborg in my book.

Official scores are 49-46, 48-47 and 48-47 for Cyborg to retain the title. No way did Holm win two rounds there I don’t think but at least the judges made the right call. Basically Holm did her absolute best and I’d say she fought well, but she just couldn’t hurt Cyborg with her best shots which just allowed the champion to work out her timing, so she could land clean counters as well as her own offense coming forward, and it was enough for her to win despite not really coming close to a finish and finding that Holm could outmuscle her from the clinch. It was the best Women’s Featherweight title fight yet, but that wasn’t hard really – Holm/GDR sucked and Cyborg/Evinger was a squash. It was fine, but wasn’t the greatest fight or anything. The problem with beating Cyborg is two-fold – the opponent would need to be able to hold up to Cyborg’s power (as Holm did here) but also be able to hurt her back and I’m not sure there’s anyone right now that can.

Post-fight she calls out Megan Anderson and I guess that would work, but that leads to the other problem, the UFC can’t carry on just treating 145lbs as Cyborg and nobody else. It’s cool to have a division built around one fighter, but look at Women’s Bantamweight – it was built around Ronda Rousey but they also pushed the likes of Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche and did plenty of other fights to build contenders for Ronda. So really the UFC need to sign a bunch of other fighters and actually build people up to fight Cyborg, and then it might work out for them. Having Anderson beat a lower-level opponent at an actual UFC event would be a good start.

-Show ends with a highlight reel and that’s it for another year in the UFC.

Final Thoughts….

Not the best way to end the year, to be honest. Khabib/Barboza was awesome to watch but it was totally one-sided, and outside of that, Magny/Condit, Esparza/Calvillo and the main event were all perfectly acceptable, but not exactly barn-burning fights. Hooker/Diakiese on the other hand basically sucked outside of a nice finish. It’s a thumbs down then with only the Khabib fight really worth seeking out to watch.

Best Fight: Nurmagomedov vs. Barboza
Worst Fight: Diakiese vs. Hooker

Overall Rating: **

Until next time,

Scott Newman: